Mark Zmarzly compares how NO people and YES people interpret failures:
1. No people regret all the times they said yes and failed. They regret the failure!
2. Yes people don't regret failure, they feel regret mostly over opportunities they did not seize! They do not regret their failures, only their non-attempts!
Every "Yes" Is An Opportunity
What happened? I was often lonely. bored in class, and felt detached from my peers. All those NOs limited my opportunity to meet new friends, connect with my classmates, and stand out to my professors.
So what made me start saying YES?
It was actually a NO. As an undergraduate, I had to fulfill a language requirement - at least two years of a second language. I was already proficient in Spanish and decided to say NO to taking Advanced Spanish (where I'd have to write essays and read Don Quijote en espanol). Instead, I said YES to Russian 101. I assumed I'd learn how to say Hi, Bye, Apple, and Where's the library?
I found myself in a tight-knit group where it was safe to say YES. YES, I will risk looking stupid by attempting to pronounce words I have yet to get a handle on. YES, I will come to a study group or movie night or bowling to hang out with my classmates. YES, I will answer questions in class, and not worry whether or not I'm always correct.
All those YES's ultimately added up - Russian proved an entry point into so many subsequent academic (and personal) opportunities for me, that now, I can't fathom what would have happened if I'd said NO.
When To Say Yes
On Campus: A few times a year, most schools will hold fairs to publicize clubs, organizations, and careers. Go to them. You might learn that there's a juggling club meeting every Thursday afternoon, and you've always wanted to try juggling...so why not just give it a shot? Similarly, a job fair is excellent practice for interacting with potential employers in a professional manner. Bring your resume if you are actively looking for work, and if someone gives you his or her card, follow up with an email or phone call. This could be the opportunity for an internship or post-graduate job.
Free Stuff: Universities are pretty good about hosting events and give-aways for their students on a semi-regular basis. However, if nobody shows up, what incentive does the school have to keep offering them? Go get your t-shirt, ice cream, picture taken with the team mascot - whatever. Go. Say YES to fun.
Electives: They're called electives for a reason - to give you, the student, a chance to have some choice in your curriculum. Electives do not (!) have to relate to your major. In fact, they are wonderful opportunities to take advantage of your school's full breadth of course offerings. You can explore a peripheral interest or hobby without any real long-term academic or professional commitment. For example, I was a History major, but some of my favorite classes, like Drawing 101 and Anthropology of Addiction, let me develop my interests in art and human behavior.
When To Say No
If I say no to pulling all-nighters during exam week, that means I'm not procrastinating, I'm working on my time management skills, and I'm setting myself up to actually be awake come test time.
Or, by saying no to playing on my friend's soccer team, I have enough time to stay on top of my homework, hang out with my significant other, and go to my part-time job.
Move on From Failures, Seize Opportunities
However, I'm asking you to go beyond a simple pros vs. cons analysis, and examine your motives for YES. Are you saying no out of fear of failing? Would you be more willing to say YES if you reframed the outcome, good or bad, as having pursued an opportunity?
Saying YES in pursuit of attempting to better yourself or your situation gives you power. Things are no longer happening to you - you're making things happen for you.